22 Oct

How to fix podcasting’s critical flaw

Despite growing incredibly quickly, podcasting is broken. The hundreds of creators starting podcasts each week are failing to see the major flaw with podcasting that will hamper their growth.

The flaw comes down to one simple question…

When was the last time you saw a podcast go viral?

Blog posts go viral. YouTube videos go viral. Hell, even tweets go viral! But podcasts don’t.

When Barack Obama went on WTF with Marc Maron, that went viral. But here’s the deal, I’m not Marc Maron and you’re certainly not Barack Obama.

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More recently, Elon Musk and Joe Rogan went viral, but the same thing applies: it’s a wildly famous person on one of the most popular podcasts on the web. Without those factors, podcasts don’t spread.

Why pour your heart and soul into creating content in a medium that doesn’t have the opportunity to spread in a major way?

Because podcasts are good at other things: building a deeper connection with your audience, slowly attracting new listeners, flushing out new ideas, and making new connections as a creator through your guests. So it’s not all bad! Podcasts are absolutely worth creating, we just need to figure out how to overcome this major flaw that long-form audio doesn’t naturally spread.

Let’s make your podcast go viral

We actually already identified the solution while describing the problem. Podcasts don’t go viral, or more specifically long-form audio doesn’t go viral. But videos and written content do!

Ideas aren’t created in a vacuum. That’s what podcasts are amazing at! There’s nothing like an hour long conversation with another smart creator to get you to come up with fresh ideas worth sharing. So let’s use podcasts as the idea generators and the way to connect with our audiences on a deep level, and then use writing and videos to grow our audience.

Enter Sean McCabe

The first person I’ve seen so clearly execute this technique is Sean McCabe. Sean is an author, podcaster, video creator, and so much more. But it all starts with his podcast.

His weekly show is where he deep dives into ideas with his co-host. They use that time to share new ideas and to refine their thoughts. It’s remarkable how a passing comment is able to spark an idea.

Each show is filmed and streamed live to his community. The video editor then finds the best moments and edits them down into 1-3 minute clips that can be shared on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube (Example: Do less, better. 2 minutes and 16 seconds of shareable content!).

A practical example

A recurring theme on the seanwes podcast is to show up consistently. In fact, here’s an hour and 45 minute episode on the topic! One of several shows where Sean and his co-host Ben have riffed on the idea of consistent commitment over time.

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Then the idea appears in a shorter 2 minute video for his YouTube channel called seanwes tv.

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The concept of showing up every day for two years even makes its way into an impactful hand-lettered piece perfect for sharing on Twitter or Instagram.

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And finally, there’s a long-form blog post that takes you through the idea in detail, referencing other podcast ideas and episodes of seanwes tv.

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The podcast is the spark

The podcast is the spark. The place where the new idea is formed and incubated. Then it’s cut down into bite-sized pieces in video or written out into a refined blog post to be shared. Whichever form it takes, that content is shared with the community and promoted around the web. Sometimes it simply turns into a teaser for that podcast episode, but occasionally, it goes viral!

These posts then draw in new fans, who start to checkout more content after seeing the first post shared widely on social media. From there they find the podcast, subscribe, and then start to build a deeper respect for Sean and his work through the magic of long-form audio.

Sean leaned into what podcasts do best and solved their biggest flaw. All of a sudden, his ideas generated from the podcast have the opportunity to go viral!

Tim Ferriss

Tim Ferriss is one of the most popular content creators on the web. He uses this concept to make sure his podcast gets more attention—even though it’s already wildly popular!

In order to resurface a great episode from a few years earlier, Tim had his editing team create a video from an impactful clip where Josh Waitzkin talks about how he interacts with his son.

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That video is a simple hook in a format that has the potential to spread. The long-form episode won’t go viral, but this short clip has the potential to be the hook new listeners need to check out the full episode and subscribe to the show.

Tools of Titans

Tim takes this idea further by using the podcast as the source for an entire book with Tools of Titans! The best quotes, tips, and concepts from hundreds of episodes are then curated into a bestselling book where tens of thousands of people will come in contact with the ideas. And if they love the ideas, they’ll go back and subscribe to the podcast.

Matt D’Avella

Podcaster and YouTuber Matt D’Avella has done a great job of turning his long-form interviews into bite-sized, shareable content. What starts as a beautifully filmed interview in Matt’s house becomes content that guests can share directly with their community.

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Out of an hour and a half long interview with Caleb Wojcik on business, filmmaking, freelancing, and more they were able to edit down a 4 minute section specifically on how to land dream clients.

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Caleb released that as a separate video and sent it to his email list. He may not have sent out the entire episode to his list, but this shorter section was perfect for a topical email. Now Caleb’s list is exposed to Matt’s podcast, and if they enjoyed it they’ll find other episodes and subscribe.

Matt also routinely takes clips from his show and releases them in shorter clips on Facebook and other platforms. In fact, that’s how I first discovered his work!

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Chase Jarvis

Photographer and startup founder Chase Jarvis is also doing this with well edited videos highlighting clips from his podcast. With the video dimensions and subtitles he is able to share this same video on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter where it has the chance to perform quite well!

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Luck surface area

Now you might be inclined to try this with a single idea or a great moment from your podcast—that could be a great start, but it’s not nearly enough. To truly succeed we need to create a system.

But first, let’s define the actual goal.

We want to create systems that expand the luck surface area of the best ideas on your podcast. I’ll be the first to admit that “luck surface area” is an odd term. So let me explain.

Successful people often say, “I just got lucky.”

While it may be true (to an extent), it doesn’t help anyone trying to recreate a version of that success. You can’t engineer luck. So what are you supposed to do, just sit back and wait for luck to strike?

Jason Roberts, who coined the term, had this to say:

The amount of serendipity that will occur in your life, your Luck Surface Area, is directly proportional to the degree to which you do something you’re passionate about combined with the total number of people to whom this is effectively communicated.

You’re already passionate. So are your guests. That’s why they are on the podcast. Now we need to create the system to help you get lucky and spread that idea to thousands of new fans.

A blueprint for that system

The podcast is the spark for ideas. So you need a system for identifying which ideas from a long-form podcast are worth spreading.

Generating ideas for new content

Podcasts are amazing for generating ideas, but often those ideas are lost without a system. Here are a few ideas for how to elevate the ideas worth pursuing:

  1. Transcribe your show. It’s easier to go back through your episode if you have it transcribed. You can quickly read a transcript of an hour long episode to remind you of favorite moments and ideas.You can use a service like Rev for high quality transcripts, but if $1 per minute is more than you’d like to pay, check out Descript for computer-made transcripts. Here’s a link for 100 minutes free.
  2. Lean on your editor. Find a podcast editor who doesn’t just see it as a job, but instead truly enjoys your content. Ask them to highlight their favorite moments and save clips.
  3. Ask your listeners. You can make sharing favorite moments the call to action for your
    show. At the end of the episode you can tell your listeners to post a tweet sharing their favorite moment or biggest takeaway. If something gets shared a lot, turn it into a clip that has a chance to go viral. If you want you can even use a contest to incentivize sharing these moments.
  4. Livestream. Sean McCabe livestreams every episode to his paid community. That means a ton of live engagement. His team can watch for when the most comments come in (or read through the chat later) to see what resonates.Since most of us don’t have a private community, we could live stream to Instagram Live, Facebook Live, or Periscope to get the same effect.

Creating videos

Video is the most viral form of content on the web. So let’s turn these moments and ideas into shareable videos.

  1. Turn audio into video. Take a favorite moment and overlay the audio file into a video. Add your album artwork and a soundwave to make it a shareable video!Here are two tutorials on how to create waveform visuals in After Effects:How to create Reactive Audio Spectrum Waveform Effects in Adobe After Effects (CC 2017 Tutorial (8:31)Audio Waveform Visualization Effect After Effects (9:09)Here’s an example from Sean after using those tutorials.
  2. Use Recast to do this automatically. If you want to create these clips in a few clicks use a tool like Recast which is available to all Simplecast customers.
  3. Add captions to your videos. With captions viewers can enjoy the content when they are on the go without headphones.
  4. Edit clips to fit the native formats of social platforms. Most of the viral videos on Facebook follow a similar format with catchy titles, captions, and quick editing. Package your ideas in that way and they are more likely to spread.
  5. Use Descript to quickly create visual transcripts. Justin Jackson uses Descript (mentioned above) to create videos that highlight each word of the transcript. He’s simply screen recording Descript as it plays through the transcript.This works well to hold the viewer’s attention as they listen to the clip.
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  6. Use templates to speed up the process. You don’t have to create this from scratch. Following a tutorial or spending $25 on templates can be a great way to save time!This site has a great set of IGTV templates. Also check out this list of templates from Creative Market for Instagram Stories. I particularly like this set, but that may just be because orange is my favorite color.
  7. Give Headliner a try. Headliner is a free app that makes it really easy to create shareable videos from your audio clips. And they look great! Try Headliner for free.
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As a final resource, read Wistia’s article on how to edit video for social media.

Blog posts

Blog posts, like videos, have an impressive ability to go viral if the resonate. My most viral posts have achieved 30x my normal monthly traffic in a day before! More importantly, a blog post has the ability to really dive deep into a topic and potentially change someone’s thinking.

  • What idea is worth exploring in more detail? There are some ideas that can’t be summed up in a quick clip shared on social media. Make notes of those ideas and set aside time to write these out in more detail.
  • What trends can you find across multiple episodes? Look for ideas that keep coming up across multiple episodes from different guests. If those resonate with your audience they may be worth exploring further in a blog post. As you start to see a trend, track the posts you are considering writing and ask guests questions that will give additional material.
  • Curate the answers to recurring questions. Tim Ferriss asks all of his guests a few of the same questions. What book do you gift most often? What’s your favorite purchase of $100 or less? These are perfect for curating into list posts, gift guides, or other easily written blog posts.
  • What audio and video clips can you embed in the post to give readers a taste for your podcast? The idea is to help your podcast spread, so don’t be shy in giving credit to your show for driving these ideas. Punctuate your written content with video or audio clips that drive an idea home.
  • Where could you publish this post to get the most reach? It’s natural to default to publishing your content on your own site, but our goal is to spread ideas to a new audience. So by writing guest posts you can get more reach.You should still promote the post even if you publish it on another site. It will reach even more people and you can still share it with your core audience.

One of my favorite examples of viral blog posts is Justin Jackson’s post “Words.” It has received 250,000 visitors and continues to be shared around the web. All because it resonated directly with creators.


Did you know you can even curate these ideas into a book? Here are a few examples:

  1. A short ebook. Compile your best ideas across many guests or episodes into an ebook. This could be simple like Ramit Sethi’s 15 life hacks, or turn into something more detailed. That ebook can then be a free incentive given away to grow your email list.
  2. A bestseller. The majority of Tim Ferriss’ book, Tools of Titans, is curated from answers to guests gave on his podcast. The content is great and he’s been able to get even more exposure to each idea. Think of how many people may not have heard a specific episode, but will at least scan through the book.

If you take the same ideas from a podcast, repackage them into a book, and the perceived value goes up considerably.


Our final category is images to share on social media.

  • Create shareable quotes. What quotes can you share on instagram or Twitter from your guest? If you’re just getting started here are a few templates to help. Then use sites like Unsplash to find great royalty-free photos.
  • Find a more compelling format. Adding a quote to a template can be a good place to start, but anyone can do that. How can you make your work stand out? Sean McCabe does this incredibly well with his hand lettering. The ideas deliver value and they are visually impressive.
  • Be succinct. Instead of trying to cram a full idea into an image, find the most succinct version to share. For example, I wrote a full post about defaulting to supporting creators rather than being a critic. That’s not social media ready. But instead I can summarize it down to the title of “Be a creator, not a critic.” that will immediately resonate.
  • Switch media types. Similar to Sean McCabe’s hand lettering, find other media types to express your ideas. A photo of something written out, a quote engraved in wood, or a poster framed on the wall can be more interesting content than just a graphic made in Photoshop.

Additional reading

If you are intrigued by the idea of why audio doesn’t go viral, check out these two articles for additional reading (thanks to Justin Jackson for sharing them!):

It’s about the ideas, not how to create the clips

As we wrap up, remember that our goal is to share great ideas, not just create sound bites. It’s easy to get caught up in making the perfect clip from a technical perspective, but remember the quality and catchiness of the moment makes the biggest difference. Spend as much time on your process for finding these moments as you do on packaging them for distribution.

There are true gems in your podcast, and in order to make sure they spread you have to put in the extra effort.

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10 Responses to “How to fix podcasting’s critical flaw”

  1. Thanks for this great article Nathan! Also, hope you’ll keep up with your publishing schedule, love your work!

  2. I am intrigued by your article. I am a member of an ancient and moribund group, the Idaho Academy of Science and Engineering, that like several other institutions, has abdicated a rather important role and has been allowed to simply creep along in the shadows. I am a retired professor and I have no need or desire to use some medium for my personal profit but I would like to use some of these ideas to somehow reconnect with a very vibrant technology and science sector in Idaho and use the Academy as one of the foci to expand the sciences, technology, and the education thereof into the public sector. The tremendous scientific and engineering breakthrough of nuclear power was developed right here in Idaho, and even though Arco was the first city in the world to be powered with nuclear energy, not a single lightbulb in the entire state today is powered by this tremendous breakthrough. But Idaho’s leaders let such a powerful breakthrough leave the state and become a multibillion dollar industry elsewhere. I would like to use some of your ideas to find a way to reconnect scientific and technological actors throughout the state to better champion science and education and public policy, etc.

  3. Thanks for this fantastic article Nathan. You have quite literally explained why I set up my business and what we do for our clients! I’m extremely passionate about content repurposing, and in particular podcast repurposing for all the reason that you talk about. They do lack discoverability. Repurposing is the answer :-)

  4. Amazing post!
    I think you are missing a link here?
    “If you’re just getting started here are a few templates to help”

  5. Vaidy Bala says:

    Thanks for the generous post, Nathan! This just gave me the motivation to restart my podcast. It’s been staying dormant for a while now.

    Especially the big about showing up everyday for at least 2 years. That’s a true gem.

    PS: any chance you could change your commenting tool into something a bit more mobile friendly/modern? Like Disqus or something? It really needs an upgrade!

  6. This post hit my inbox at exactly the right time. Setting up processes to put this in place in our business. Thanks for putting this together, Nathan!

  7. This is so good! And even though it’s true of podcasting, I think the bigger picture here is to share any piece of content in as many ways and on as many platforms as possible.

  8. This such a great post – thanks so much. Been experimenting with different ways to build my Being Freelance podcast further. The system will be key. We’ve done the blog post idea – https://www.beingfreelance.com/freelance-articles/being-yourself-in-business-freelancer-advice – but need to do more with video. Also started speaking at events to help promote, using quotes/concepts from the podcast. Thanks again!

  9. Great article as ever, Nathan.

    Another strategy we’re seeing more and more is partnering with other shows and airing your episodes on other podcasts. Like guest blogging, but in audio. Gimlet do this all the time within their own network, for example. Adding value to someone else’s audience with a ‘takeover’ and attracting new ears to your work can be a big win-win.

    The video piece is one we’ve been working on and totally agree that making content appropriate to the platform is super important.

    We’re designing custom animated videos for each episode of some of our clients’ shows and they’ve been performing really well. Definitely takes more time and effort, but the result is totally worth it: https://twitter.com/secretleaders1/status/1016952787786223616

    Thanks for sharing!

  10. Hey Nathan, I’m totally binging on your blog and omg – this one is sooo good 😭 I will be resuming my FB Live interview show soon and this is GOLD. GOLD! I have so much work to do! Thank you!!

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